An empty classroom
The Philomath School District and the Philomath Education Association this week approved a two-year contract. (Getty Images)

Negotiations took several months but the Philomath School District and the Philomath Education Association this week finally reached a two-year contract settlement. Teachers had been working without a contract five months into this academic year.

“Negotiations took much longer than normal in part because the school district proposed a lot of new contract language and it took several negotiating sessions to sort through it all,” said high school teacher Len Cerney, who is on the PEA negotiating team. “I think the language that has been agreed upon in the new contract is fair, reasonable and good for both teachers and the Philomath School District.”

Cerny said 85% of PEA members voted earlier in the week to ratify the new contract. The School Board unanimously approved the contract during its Thursday night meeting.

The contract calls for a 2% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) that is effective for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years.

“On the one hand, the school district recognized that with inflation over 6%, any pay increase below that means our members ‘lose ground’ and can buy less than the previous year,” Cerny said. “On the other hand, PEA recognized that our district had a reduction in student numbers, which means the Philomath School District has less financial resources than if they had more students.”

Philomath Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday said that for the current academic year, the school district did need to dip into the use of reserve funds to balance the annual budget.

“While this decision allowed the district to maintain all staff for this school year, we are very aware that this is a one-time access of funds that will not be available to fill any holes next year,” she said. “Lower state funding resulted from a lower-than-anticipated number of enrolled students.”

The bargaining sessions started last year on June 1.

“PSD and PEA came to the table with different starting points — PSD seeking to address clarity of language in a number of articles (in the contract) and PEA wanting to address fewer articles, primarily compensation and insurance, and get done quickly,” Halliday said.

Halliday said that while acknowledging the evolution of contract language over time, the school district wanted to address some content that may no longer be relevant or sustainable.

“When it became obvious we would not be able to settle quickly, we stopped meeting for the summer from early July until resuming in mid-August,” she said.

The PEA had an initial COLA request of 4%, which the school district said was not attainable.

“While living both near and in the Corvallis economy, PSD does not have the same resources as CSD (Corvallis School District),” Halliday said.

The two teams had to work through those types of issues to come to an agreement.

“Ultimately, the 2% salary increase that we agreed upon was very similar to what many school districts in our area had for their most recent contracts,” Cerny said.

The compensation section in the agreement also allows a 1.5% experience stipend “from highest step in each column for (PEA) members who have completed one service year at that highest step.” Other compensation specifics cover insurance pool funds — no carryover with a $50,000 balance at the start of each year — a 1.5% COLA co-curricular pay increase and a provision related to professional development.

The agreement includes date-specific insurance caps.

Halliday said all employee groups — licensed, classified, administrative and those who are unrepresented — received wage increases.

“The balance must allow us to live within our means and not to overextend,” Halliday said. “I believe the balance we agreed to is good.”

School Board chair Rick Wells during Thursday night’s meeting thanked those involved to help the agreement come together.

“As contentious they may have been for a while, I think we got a good ending on both sides,” Wells said. “It should be doable from both perspectives.”

Board members Joe Dealy and Karen Skinkis also acknowledged the work that went into the agreement during a “board thanks” segment toward the end of the meeting.

Said Dealy, “I’d like to thank the board members who were on the negotiations committee and the teachers, the certified staff also, for all of their extra time and hard work to get that done.”

In addition, Halliday said she appreciated all of the work that was done to reach the agreement. And Cerny said the PEA is just excited to finally have a contract in place.

“Both sides negotiated respectfully and in good faith and PEA believes that a fair settlement has been reached,” Cerny said.